Following the Truth

by Fr. Justin Huang
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 6:2-6

Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 12:28B-34

When was the last time you changed your opinion about something important?  It’s hard to do.  We don’t like admitting that we were ‘wrong’ about something.  However, part of being an intellectually honest person, and especially if we’re disciples of Christ, is following the truth wherever it leads us, even if it means changing our minds.

I’ll give you an example, and this isn’t the heart of the homily, but my most recent case of following the truth to its logical conclusion.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that COVID “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary”.  Supported by this authoritative statement, I’ve held that vaccine mandates are wrong.  But Dr. Edward Feser, a great Catholic philosopher, makes a solid case that vaccine mandates may be moral.  He still argues that, in our current case, vaccine mandates don’t meet all five conditions for just mandates.  However, I’ve now changed my mind on mandates: some can be morally enacted by the state, even if our current one is not.

Jesus always invites us to follow the truth.  The Gospel shows us an example: “One of the scribes came near and heard the religious authorities disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’” (Mk 12:28).  This scribe approaches Jesus sincerely, differently than his peers.  He’s not here to test Jesus, but to find the truth, because he just witnessed how wise Jesus is.  His sincerity is important because we all need to be more sincere.  The scribe wants to know Jesus’ opinion on a disputed question at the time: What’s the most important commandment?  There were 613 laws in the Torah, and it wasn’t clear which was the most important.

“Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”’” (12:29-30).  This is not an obvious answer, because, at that time, some Jewish people might have argued that their ritual sacrifices were the greatest commandment.

And in our time, in our own parish, loving God with all our heart isn’t the obvious answer.  I’m sad to admit that, for the second year in a row, our school’s Grade 7 class can’t even answer this most basic question.  They think the most important commandment is to be nice and love other people—yes, to love other people is the second commandment; but Jesus isn’t even on their minds!  To mix these two up is like saying we should love our co-workers, and our family comes second.  This is not their fault and I’m sorry to bring it up.  Nevertheless, this is reality, and a real measure of how well we, as a community, are doing spiritually.  I want to call out our entire community, especially our parents.  How is it that the children go through life, our parish, and school, and they think God has nothing to do with the most important commandment?  We’ll come back to this later.

“Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,” and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself,”—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices’” (12:32-33).  Here the scribe follows the truth to its logical conclusion: If loving God with our whole heart is the most important commandment, then this must be more important than ritual sacrifices.  To say this in front of his peers, who valued the Jewish sacrifices so much, would have got him cancelled, had that existed then (Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 246-248).  For those who don’t know, being ‘cancelled’ is a modern form of ostracism, where people will shame, insult, and withdraw support, and you can even lose your job.

Let me give you a modern example of following the truth.  I came across Dave Rubin in 2016, and immediately recognized that he was intellectually honest.  In a short span of years, he distanced himself from progressive ideologies, and went from being an atheist to a theist.  He says, “There has to be a bedrock of something real and true outside of us…  Consistent with… what’s happened with the postmodern left, the progressives… where there’s nothing that’s empirically true, and any given day, you can feel anything about any particular topic—there’s a reason for that…  Their whole world view is disconnected to anything that came before them, that could be God or a religious set of ideas”.

One virtue with which Dave Rubin has personally helped me, is courage.  If I really believe in truth and really love my neighbour, then I have to be bolder in speaking politically incorrect truths.  Rubin states that there will never be a good time to speak out.  People in college think that they’ll speak out once they have a stable job, and people who have a family will speak out once they’ve paid off their mortgage.  That’s not true.  If I don’t speak out now, I’ll always be a coward.

So, let me show you a video that has 14 million views and which does two things: it shows Dave Rubin’s shift to truth, in terms of cultural events; and it challenges us to speak out on cultural issues.

Some people wonder why we address cultural and even political questions here, and that’s because, if loving God and neighbour are real, we can’t be neutral.  Dave’s right: White Christian males are judged differently; it’s okay on social media for Harsha Walia to criticize ‘Canadian whiteness,’ even though that’s racist.  Forcing Christians and Muslims to go against their conscience is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did in 2018 with his grant for summer jobs: If we want government money, then we have to support abortion and gender ideology.  And, if the Catholic Church is against gay marriage, then we’re accused of homophobia.  Yes, I don’t think there’s such a thing as gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean that I’m against Dave Rubin.  To think I am is to fall into the shallow thinking that most of our society practices.  Dave’s also right about authoritarianism, and it applies here in Canada: The media, the government, and our universities won’t let us speak openly about what we think about transgenderism.  On Oct. 22, 2021 there was a CTV investigative report that begins this way: “Whenever experts, in any given field, are too afraid to express their honest professional opinions on the record out of fear of being cancelled, something in the public discourse has gone terribly wrong”.

Jesus is asking us to be more sincere and intellectually honest.  If God is one, and loving Him is the most important commandment, then how must we change?

As a whole, we’re all growing spiritually, and our children are more open to God than in previous years.  But, given that our Gr. 7s don’t know the most important commandment, I’m asking you parents, if you love Jesus, then you need to be more intentional living and teaching this, because what we’re doing now is not working.  In particular, you need to bring your children to Mass.  Obviously, if you are here or online, you must care.  But many of you have told me how you’re allowing your children to stay home.  Yet, if your children are able to come to school in person, why not come to Mass in person?  You could come to the 8 a.m. Mass where there’s on average 138 people, as compared to school Masses which have over 240.  I will not go against your judgment because you’re the parents.  Nevertheless, it’s my job as a spiritual father to ask these questions.  Many people have said they’re lazy to come to Mass in person, and there is a discrepancy between being able to go to school and not come to Sunday Mass.  Your children may conclude that school is more important than the Eucharist.

In three weeks, we have our Christ the King challenge.  If we’ve made Jesus the centre of our lives, then let’s celebrate it and put up our hand.  If we haven’t made Jesus the centre, but love Him and want Him to be the centre, then maybe in the next three weeks, we can sincerely and wholeheartedly say the prayer of Pope Benedict that we showed two weeks ago.  Furthermore, if Jesus is the centre of our lives, then we should be bolder in standing up against much of our culture, even if we get cancelled.

Jesus gives a two-edged response to the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (12:34).  Yes, this scribe has changed in accordance with the truth, but still isn’t yet in the kingdom.  He’s close to it!  But not yet in.  Why?  Because he hasn’t yet made Jesus the centre.  Jesus praises and challenges him at the same time.  Many of us are also not far from the kingdom.  We’re close!  But Jesus respects our freedom and invites us to follow the truth wherever it leads us.